Bamboo plants are grasses most notably native to East Asian countries but with over 1000 varieties you can find them almost anywhere from 50°N latitude to 50°S latitude including India, northern Australia, mid-Atlantic United States and northern areas of South America. Depending on the species mature bamboos can be as small as a few inches or as tall as 100 feet. For at least hundreds of years if not thousands bamboo has been used for many purposes from use as a building material, a food, livestock feed, paper manufacturing, even medicinal applications, and of course ornamental landscaping and decoration in the home.
Light and Temperature
Most bamboos should be planted in full sun but young plants may need some shade particularly during midday. If you are planting bamboo directly in the ground as a landscape feature choose a clumping variety to avoid rampant spreading. If you do decide to go with a “running” type, surround your grove with a HDPE (high density polyethylen barrier), 30 inches deep. Fallen leaves provide some mulch but adding to this with compost or chipped hardwood mulch will provide nutrients, encourage rhizome growth close to the surface and help particularly young first year bamboo plants survive the winter.
The temperature requirements for bamboo are generally listed as a minimum temperature and there are varieties that can withstand even up to -20°F so if you thought your area was too cold for bamboo think again.
Bamboo requires quite a bit of water during the hot season and especially when they are young. Be careful with young plants as they are not very tolerant to over watering and may become unstable in flood conditions. Once they have become established for a few years they become much more tolerant to most adverse conditions.
Bamboo in containers does best in a mixture of equal parts loam, coarse sand, sphagnum peat with 1 part small granite chips or bark fines added for a nice porous mix. For a free draining soilless mix you can use 1 part sphagnum peat or coir, 1 part perlite or granite chips, and 1 part vermiculite or bark fines). When combined with regular application of diluted liquid feed this creates optimal conditions for most bamboo varieties.
Pruning and propagation
Pruning bamboo plants is not usually necessary but can be done to achieve different looks. If you have an outdoor grove or screen you may want to remove some of the dying culms after about 5-10 years. With an indoor potted stand you have other fun options like short culms with bushy canopies. This is accomplished by removing the upper portion just above the lowest viable limbs (or higher if you like) once “topped” the Culm will never again grow vertically but will create more foliage with a canopy look.
Propagating with a running variety is easy and it is more likely that you will be trying to get it to stop spreading. With a clumping variety propagating is usually done with a branch cutting.
When re-potting a bamboo plant organize your materials, create your medium, and choose your pot. Once you are ready remove the bamboo Culm from the old pot and inspect the root ball for rot and pests. Once you are satisfied in the health of the roots soak the plant for an hour or two, this ensures a high level of hydration before re-potting. Fill your pot and dig a hole in the center, put the plant in and fill it in, be sure to cover the whole of the root mass. Water thoroughly and you are all done.
Problems and Pests
Indoor potted bamboo is not usually affected much by the common houseplant pests but can harbor bamboo mites. These are a group of about 20 species of spider mites and can be quite damaging to any amount of bamboo in any setting. The mites feed by removing the moisture from the leaf so you will notice symptoms in the form of discolored patches. Alternatively you may find fecal spots dotting the underside of the leaves. To control bamboo mites the most effective is early discovery and quarantine of affected plants. If you have a large grove or are growing large amounts of bamboo for sale you may consider introducing a species of predatory mite that will not harm your plants but will eat other mites. This will not completely remove the pest mites but may control the population enough to limit most of the damage. A second step of applying miticide to plants being prepped for sale would be required.